Friday, December 29, 2006
Call Me An Office-Park Populist
In last Sunday's New York Times, Jacob Hacker - author of The Great Risk Shift - counters prevailing notions that white collar voters voted Democratic this year just because of Iraq and Republican corruption. He asserts that white collar voters are as concerned about unemployment and the lack of health insurance among working Americans as anyone else, and that they voted for Democratic candidates not in spite of, but because of, their emphasis on these issues. He cites the example of Jim Webb of Virginia, who won heavily among white collar voters in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. even though his main goal was to "bring true fairness back to economic life."
Hacker goes on to say that economic insecurity threatens even the most highly educated of white collar workers. For instance, computer science grads who may have gotten high starting salaries in the 90's are now struggling to get by on flat incomes and short-term contracts devoid of benefits, while they train foreign labor to take over their jobs. Just because these individuals are vulnerable doesn't mean that they are stupid and lazy and shortsighted, as most neo-con apologists for corporate ruthlessness would contend. Often, the most vulnerable workers are those who invested the most in higher education and attached themselves to what seemed at the time to be the most forward-looking careers. Their skills can be highly specialized, requiring very expensive training. Once the market for those skills disappears, not only do their jobs vanish - all the money they spent on training for those jobs is lost as well, sometimes even before their student loans are completely paid off. It may be easy to assess which career paths were losers in hindsight, but it is impossible to guess in advance which careers will lead to prosperity and happiness and which will result in thwarted and precarious lives. Hence, educated American workers can never be sure how their skills will serve them in the future.
Hacker admits that the repercussions of the rising insecurity of the middle class are far from clear. Most white collar workers don't want to destroy the system, and are themselves uncertain where to turn. It does, however, shift the balance of the debate from "what the prosperous many should do for the dispossessed few" to what anxious Americans from all walks of life must do to safeguard the economic security of one another.
"The Rise of the Office-Park Populist" from The New York Times
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Labor Unions & White Collar America
The thoughtful article at the link below assesses the possible roles that unions could play in the lives of white collar workers. The authors emphasize that, although white collar workers "are now as bewildered by the 'new economy' as manufacturing workers have been for a generation", they are reluctant to join trade unions. Part of the trouble is that they believe trade unions are essentially divisive - that they obstruct corporations rather than work with them to guarantee a profit for all. Even though white collar workers are dismayed by downsizing and flat wages, most imagine that they can still get around those destructive corporate trends if they only work hard enough. Unions remain in their eyes dinosaurs of a time gone by at best - and, at worst, totally corrupt and irrelevant.
Nonetheless, the authors discovered that white collar workers are interested in "new unions" that can solve problems by working with management rather than against it. But, as the authors say, "labor activists are often ambivalent about characterizing unions as team players." Many union organizers stress that "employers have reneged on partnership arrangements so often that union members are instinctively suspicious of any allusions to teamwork." Casting the work of unions in a new light that emphasizes cooperation rather than opposition, however, can appeal to white collar workers even if the traditional tactics of arbitration and collective bargaining are not wholly abandoned.
Unions have made headway on a variety of white collar fronts. The Communication Workers of America (CWA) has stepped in to help provide training for Verizon employees, and the Professional and Technical Engineers union has fought successfully to allow Boeing employees to telecommute. The Service Employees International Union is sponsoring United Professionals, and CWA is supporting the IT workers union Techs Unite. Ten major unions have established a contract with Kaiser Permanente, called the National Labor Management Partnership Agreement, whose goals are to involve "employees and unions in organizational decision-making at every level" and "to improve the quality of health care, make Kaiser Permanente a better place to work, enhance Kaiser Permanente's competitive performance, provide employees with employment and income security, and expand Kaiser Permanente's membership." This is the kind of sophisticated symbiosis that would attract white collar workers, and there are labor unions out there that are pulling it off right now. The unions are already changing with the times, and all they may lack is the right publicity.
But unions can't conquer white collar reluctance solely through their own imaginative innovations. White collar workers will remain leary of joining any union, no matter how modern and progressive, if union membership threatens their jobs. Unions and their members must lobby the Democratic congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which is intended to shield corporate employees from dismissal just for exercising their legal right to organize.
"A Union Hearing" from The American Prospect
"White Collar Perspectives On Workplace Issues"
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Record Numbers Coming In Sick
So many Americans are coming into work sick these days that a new word has been coined to describe the phenomenon. That word is "presenteeism", the opposite of "absenteeism" - it's when employees are present when they should actually be absent. Although some researchers suggest that presenteeism is motivated by a sense of self-sacrifice, others believe that workers come in sick because they don't have sick leave and can't afford to lose the money - or the company needs them to work all the time, and they fear getting fired. According to Vicky Powell, head of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, "Some workers think the company is going to fall apart without them. But many simply fear being suspended or fired if they don?t show up."
A recent survey of 1,000 workers found that one third felt pressured to work when they are sick, yet a similar number said they'd caught the flu at work. The cubicle environment, in which few workers have closable offices and hundreds may share the same open workspace, the risk of catching an illness from a sick colleague is greater than ever. 56 percent of employers say presenteeism is a problem, up from 39 percent two years ago. Research conducted at Cornell University indicates that the decline in productivity induced by the presence of sick employees generates about 60 percent of corporate health costs - more than that caused by absenteeism.
But if workers cannot take time off because they don't have sick leave, what can they do? Only half of all American workers get paid sick leave. At the bottom of the wage ladder, less than a quarter get paid sick leave. Only 1 in 7 of restaurant workers get paid sick leave, which makes its absence a public health hazard as well as a workplace nuisance. The lack of paid sick leave affects all temporary workers regardless of income. As an IT consultant paid only for the hours that I work, I have not taken a sick day since 1995.
The clear solution is for more businesses to offer paid sick leave. The city of San Francisco has passed a law to make paid sick leave mandatory, and other cities may soon follow their example. Senator Ted Kennedy and Rep. Rose DeLauro are spearheading something called the Healthy Families Act, which will require businesses with more than 15 employees to provide no fewer than seven days of paid sick leave a year. DeLauro says, "It will make a major difference in the lives of working families."
"Sniffling, Sneezing and Turning Cubicles Into Sick Bays" from The New York Times
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Scrooge Cuts The Rug, And To Hell With Tiny Tim
We at the White Collar Warrior will be taking a hiatus for the holidays. In the meantime, we thought you'd like to know that even Scrooge himself is celebrating the season. Financial and technology companies raking in giant revenues are living large in Manhattan. 29 year old Internet guru Michael Jacobson said of his own firm's shindig, "I give this party an 8.5. It reminds me of the dot-com era. What would make it better is if they had a Santa dancing in a thong on the bar. That would be like a 9.5."
Corporations have been booking up the Russian Tea Room like Bolsheviks clamoring outside the Kremlin, with caviar and vodka service at $500 a person. The decor for other company parties is even more sumptuous and pricey. One investment concern is doing it all in Art Deco, with a red, white and black color scheme - a presumably black-tie and white gown affair for the swells with a red carpet at the entrance. Some hedge fund high-rollers are doing up the J.P. Morgan Library as an Aspen chalet (with a soupcon of Ralph Lauren) at a cost of $100,000. They even had fake animal heads mounted on the walls. Considering how many wage slaves their efforts have helped downsize though, those heads might as well have been human...
Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good night...
"Corporate Christmas parties more decadent than ever" from The Times Argus (Montpelier, Vermont)
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
We Will End The Year Biting Our Nails
According to US News & World Report, "our nation's core bargain with the middle class is disintegrating... Exposed to greater risks in job security, they feel abandoned, left to fund their own health and retirement programs out of static or falling real incomes." The middle class is, not to put too fine a point on it, getting royally screwed. While the cost of health care, housing and higher education have skyrocketed between 2000 and 2005, median household income for working people fell five years in a row. American workers are continuously losing their jobs and, even though they can find new ones, those pay on average 17 percent less than the jobs they lost - thus giving lie to the "feel-good" illusion of an unemployment rate that remains relatively low. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers says, "If the anxious middle's concerns about fairness are this serious when the unemployment is 4.4 percent, there will be far greater concerns whenever the economy slows down."
The plight of our faltering middle class is eroding core American values. Most Americans are now so insecure that they are afraid of risk. Once a nation of pioneers and inventors and entrepreneurs, we have become a sad mass of nervous nellies, twice as desperate to hold on to what we've got than to take a risk on anything new. Health care is so expensive, and health care insurance so difficult to get and retain, that Americans live in fear of any illness or accident that might cast throw them into bankruptcy. Family values mavens claim to revere the ideal of marriage and children, while supporting a heartless economic system in which families are twice as likely to file bankruptcy as singles or childless couples. Both middle class parents must work for the family to survive, and if any one of them got sick or downsized, their entire house of credit cards would fall. Meanwhile, those politicos who bloviate about the sanctity of marriage give tax breaks to the same corporations that make the lives of American families so precarious.
Just something to consider, as the season of "giving" commences and the year draws to a close...
"America's High Anxiety" from US News & World Report
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Is Your Boss A Scrooge?
Slate magazine has invited readers to submit stories about bosses who engage in flamboyantly stingy behavior during the holiday season. You know what I mean. No parties, no bonuses, no PTO and insulting chintzy gifts (if any). Unfortunately, the deadline has already passed - but Slate promises to publish the plums from that vast pudding of corporate Scrooginess next week.
According to the consulting firm Hewitt Associates, 67 percent of the companies surveyed are not paying bonuses this year, up from 59 percent last year, and only 65 percent have planned holiday parties, down from 74 percent in 2005. As Slate says, "This trend isn't surprising. Of late, America's CEOs have acted like a bunch of Scrooges all year round. As profits have soared to record levels, they've been unwilling to share the bounty with employees in the form of substantially higher wages, benefits, and bonuses."
"Bad Corporate Santa: Tell us about your Scrooge-like employer" from Slate
Monday, December 18, 2006
Corporate Corruption Starts At Home
Corporate corruption is spreading across the globe. 60 percent of the half million bribery and corruption cases brought to Chinese courts in the last ten years involved international trade and foreign businessmen, but China lacks the legal apparatus to punish multinational corporations involved in such cases. Consequently, most go unpunished and their frequency is on the rise. Ironically, many in China had always assumed that foreign firms were more ethical than domestic firms, but that is clearly no longer true. Even Germany, a nation once admired for its extreme correctness in business matters, has been rocked by scandal. Six top executives at Siemens have been arrested for setting up a 200 million euro slush fund to bribe international customers. Additional scandals have recently smeared the reputations of Daimler-Chrysler, BMW and Volkswagen. Yet Germany is still considered one of the least corrupt of nations, ranking as the 16th best nation by the World Corruption Index - coming in ahead of the United States and Japan. What is happening to the corporations of the world, and of the Western world in particular?
Part of the blame lies with business schools, which emphasize finance and marketing at the expense of business ethics. According to London Business School professor Sumantra Ghoshal, the "worst excesses of recent management practices have their roots in a set of ideas that have emerged from business-school academics over the last 30 years." Based partly on the homo economicus theories of Milton Friedman and others, these ideas promote amoral self-interest as the legitimate driver of all corporate action, thereby relieving business school students of the need to develop "any sense of moral responsibility."
Measurements of business success that look solely at the bottom line tend to reward any increase in profits, regardless of how destructive they may be to the long-term health of a company - much less to its role in the society at large. They excuse downsizing, the acquisition of other companies simply to destroy them and sell off their parts, even the nonsensical practice of giving bloated salaries to "cost-cutting" CEOs, thereby rewarding decreased costs with increased costs and cutting profit virtually in half. It doesn't matter what CEOs do to increase profit, how well they do it, or even for how long. So long as the desired end is accomplished in the short term, the shareholders and the public at large are expected to be impressed. And, unfortunately, they sometimes are. The exercise of corporate ethics is restricted to self-aggrandizing gestures of "giving back" through philanthropy, and is entirely absent from the day-to-day operation of the company and its treatment of its customers and employees. In essence, many corporations rob from the poor to give to the poor when they lay off their lowest paid workers to bankroll their philanthropic pretensions.
Even if ethics courses were more widely taught at business schools, they would make their point too late. The ethical sense of most students is deficient before they even enter business school. 56 percent of American business students admit to cheating on exams. Hear that? The majority not only do it, but "admit" it - as if they believe there was no shame in what they did and feel no need to conceal their actions. Already they believe that the end justifies the means. Only by focusing on ethics as early as grade school, the author asserts, can we teach our young that winning at any cost is not necessarily winning at all. Good luck to that, I say. Good luck!
"Corporate corruption - stopping the rot" from mercatornet
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Update On United Professionals (UP)
Here is another article about Barbara Ehrenreich's new group, United Professionals. It emphasizes that UP's key strategy will be to unite the concerns of recent college graduates in the business world with those of veterans over 40. Both groups suffer unfairly. Recent college graduates must drain their stagnant entry level salaries to pay off the ever rising debt on their student loans, while white collar workers over 40 are increasingly forced into unemployment by age discrimination. According to Tamara Draut, a co-founder of UP and the author of Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead, "It is important to align the two groups...Pitting the generations against each other (as) we often do isn't an effective way to organize, given that many things would benefit both groups."
UP wishes to provide a forum where members can air their views and share their experiences. As Ms. Draut says, "The confluence of similar stories is very important. I've found that I'm not alone, and that's a powerful feeling."
UP needs more members, and it looks like it will get them. The movement is already building steam. Nearly 300 people in the last seven weeks have volunteered to start local chapters. It only costs $36.50 a year to join. I have. Why don't you?
"White-Collar Workers Unite" from In These Times
United Professionals website
Friday, December 15, 2006
Electronic Interruptions Costing Companies Money
Instant messaging (or IM) has become so quick and easy that everyone is sending them to everyone else, besieging the workplace with their messages like a horde of locusts. But IM represents just another assault launched on workplace mental concentration, joining emails, cellphone calls and the ever accursed pager. According to Reuters, white collar workers are interrupted by incoming messages of all sorts as frequently as 11 times an hour, costing corporations up to $588 billion in lost man hours every year. Managers are typically interrupted about six times an hour, and cubicle workers are interrupted 70 times daily. An average of five minutes must elapse after the interruption before the worker can return his or her attention to the job. This results in about 2.8 hours lost per day to office distractions.
Constant interruptions not only cost time - they also impede performance. According to a recent psychological study, even subjects high on marijuana did better on IQ tests than those submitted to a constant barrage of emails and phone calls. Something might be said for a work environment in which one's focus can be "recollected in tranquility". There are certainly advantages to coming in at, say, 6:30 in the morning - or working from home when your spouse is at work and the kids in school. Up the early risers, and up the telecommuters, too!
"IT Digital Distractions Costs Business 588B USD" from Daily Tech
Thursday, December 14, 2006
You Can Do Something About Greedy CEOs!
CEO salaries have increased 209 percent in the last six years. Last year Barry Diller of IAC/InterActiveCorp. raked in $275 million, Richard Fairbank of Capital One Financial scored $249 million, Nabors Industries head Eugene Isenberg took home $203 million, Yahoo chief Terry Semel came away with $183 million, and KB Home honcho Bruce Karaz got $156 million. Retiring UnitedHealth czar William McGuire took away $1.6 billion in options, in addition to a yearly pay package worth $10.6 million in 2005 alone. This is all happening in an era when wages and salaries have been suppressed for most of us and middle class families have seen their hopes for the future entombed in a mountain of debt. How can these CEOs earn so much? The boards that govern corporations are responsible for awarding CEOs these salaries, but they are not objective and cannot be trusted. According to Rep. Barney Frank, "Boards of directors cannot be relied on because too many are themselves CEOs or they have been hand-picked by CEOs. (Board) directors can do some things well. But being a check on CEOs is not one of them."
As the chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services, Frank wants to reform the way boards operate by giving the shareholders themselves the right to reject excessive compensation. They should have power not just over CEO salaries, but over bonuses, stock options, pensions and many other perks. Frank also wants shareholders to have the power to elect boards, rather than allowing CEOs to pack them with their own friends and cronies. Frank is also pushing for new SEC rules that require fuller disclosure of executive pay, and make it easier to get back incentive pay from CEOs whenever restatements of corporate earnings don't match assumed performance gains. Finally, Frank wants to reform enforcement of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which requires corporations to assess their own accounting controls, so that corporations - especially smaller companies - can comply with Section 404 more easily.
Meanwhile, there are lots of ways you can help CEOs and their companies straighten up and fly right. These include:
1) Send an email to SEC Chairman Christopher Cox, Rep. Barney Frank, and your own representatives in Congress, expressing your concerns and outlining the changes you want to see.
2) If you own shares in a corporation's stock, do what you can to kick CEO cronies off the board, and replace them with more responsible and objective members.
3) Contact the SEC and express your support for shareholders' rights.
4) Lobby your Congressmen to support greater scrutiny of the compensation consultants who okay those titantic CEO salaries. Are they getting kickbacks or what? We want to know.
5) Take an active role in shareholder representation. Demand changes. Ask the corporation to make executive pay reform an issue and to bring it to the shareholders for a vote.
Do what you can to keep greedy CEOs from robbing the nation blind!
Go directly to the articles at the link below for more details.
"The coming crackdown on CEOs" from MSN.com
"4 ways you can fight greedy CEOs" from MSN.com
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Over 33 percent of white collar professionals in such lucrative fields as law, medicine, media, finance and technology put in more than 60 hours a week, and most say they're working an average of 16.5 hours more per week than they did five years ago. This trend is so pronounced that commentators even have a name for what these folks do - "extreme jobs". According to the article at the link below, the trend has multiple causes. The advent of globalization, which requires workers to respond to business partners in different time zones, coupled with the explosion in communications technology, puts us at the beck and call of our bosses and colleagues at all hours of the day and night. The nine-to-five workday is a thing of the past, but most of those with "extreme jobs" are not complaining.
"The big surprise (is) just how much these extreme professionals love their work," said business author Dr. Sylvia Ann Hewlett. "There's something deep in our culture right now which really admires over-the-top pressure, over-the-top performance, over-the-top pay packages." The phenomenon of "extreme jobs" is just one facet of a culture that values going over the top in so many other ways - from the life-threatening imbecilities of extreme sports and the overweening ambition of talentless reality TV stars, to the extreme mother-hennishness of "helicopter parents" and the compulsion to pack into family vacations everything a person could possibly do, other than relax. As a matter of fact, extreme professionals rarely take even strenuous vacations. 42 percent take off 10 days or less per year, while more than half regularly cancel their vacations altogether. The age of moderation is over. It's no longer about leading a balanced life with a place in it for both contemplation and community. It's all about winning at all cost, or die trying.
That dying may get literal. "There's a big undermining of personal health," says Hewlett. "Whether it's addiction to sleep medications or crazy diets because you're traveling all over the world." Two-thirds of these high flyers don't get enough sleep. Many overeat, and what they do eat is more likely to be junk food because they don't have the time to sit down to a home-cooked meal. Their rampant workaholism can also destroy their relationships. Their children languish or rebel, and their spouses get angry. Obsession with work is the fourth largest cause of divorce. It is also implicitly sexist. As Hewlett says, "A business model that requires top to put in 70-hour workweeks for decades at a time seriously excludes women."
What can be done? The experts emphasize that more "flexibility" must be built into the work world. Perhaps there may eventually be something like sabbaticals for executives. Maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe we'll all just work ourselves to death, or die in debt if we don't...
"'Extreme' jobs on the rise" from the Christian Science Monitor
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Two Percent Own Half Of World's Wealth
A worldwide study of wealth has reported that 2 percent of the world's adults owned more than 50 percent of all assets as of the year 2000. The top 1 percent, in fact, owned 40 percent, while the top 10 percent owned 85 percent of everything. Assets of $2,200 put you at the 50th percentile, while assets of $61,000 and $500,000 put you at the 90th and 99th percentile, respectively. However, since the top 1 percent of the world's adults constitutes 37 million people, it is "far from an exclusive club".
You are invited to react to these figures as you will. Guilt, outrage or just plain relief are all acceptable human reactions. If you have half a million at your disposal, thank your lucky stars that you are an American. Comments at Dienekes' Anthropology Blog reminds us nonetheless that the need for money is relative. Half a million hardly makes you rich in America anymore, and it can drain away quickly if you have no continuing source of income. On the other hand, as one person says, "The fact that I can comfortably survive on 5 dollars a day in Russia certainly matters". Not to mention how little it might take to make ends meet in the Third World. Not that you would want to live there...
Another thing to consider is that the wealth calculations subtract debt from assets, such that millions of middle class Americans with 500,000 dollar homes and two brand new cars might stand a lot lower on this scale than they would like to. As the BBC says, "some citizens of the rich countries have more debt than assets - making them, the report says, among the poorest in the world in terms of household wealth...However, they are presumably better off in terms of what they consume than many people in developing countries."
"Richest 2% own 'half the wealth'" from BBC News
"Pioneering study shows richest 2 percent own half world wealth" from Dienekes' Anthropology Blog
Monday, December 11, 2006
What Do The Democrats Want For Christmas?
There are at least four "grinch" factors that will work to lessen the positive impact of any new policies enacted to support American workers. One, the economy is potentially slowing. Two, according to the Christian Science Monitor, "Because the size of the government in the United States is relatively small compared with that of most other industrial nations, changes in government policies can have only limited impact on the distribution of income." (Perhaps this is because the brains of our political leaders also tend to be disproportionately smaller, but still. I don't really see how the size of a government would necessarily limit the impact of its economic policies, unless we needed to have government employees out there enforcing those policies or unless governments generally aid workers by hiring them. I would like to see that statement qualified...) Three, at least $150 billion are earmarked for the war in Iraq next year, so there will be little left over for other programs no matter how far-reaching they might be. Four, George W. "Stay The Course" Bush still has veto power, and may use it to play anti-Santa to the American people.
If the Democrats are able to accomplish some progress despite the above, this is what they would like to do:
1) Raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $7.25 by 2009. This would immediately increase the incomes of 5.5 million workers. Eventually, through a sort of "trickle-up" effect, it could also raise the incomes of 7 million more. Neo-cons claim that this could, for instance, shoot up the price of a fast food lunch. Then again - those increased prices could deter obese Americans from gorging themselves on junk food, and that wouldn't be all that bad, would it?
2) Expand the No Child Left Behind school program - and provide more support for student loans.
3) Improve Medicare prescription-drug assistance and expanded health care, at least for poor kids.
4) Allow recent federal estate tax cuts to expire after 2010, which would alone raise $40 billion in revenue.
5) Increase 15 percent tax rate on capital gains to conform with the tax rate on other personal income, which would also bring in more money - especially from that one percent who own nearly 60 percent of all investments.
6) Raise the maximum personal income tax from 35 to 39.6 percent. According to Robert Atkinson of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, "There is absolutely no evidence (that a tax hike) will damage economic growth." All of these tax hikes, in fact, would help shrink the deficit.
7) Make it easier for trade unions to recruit new members, and give shareholders more say on CEO compensation.
Again - these are nice-to-haves. Whether we'll get any of them before Bush leaves office in 2009 is another thing altogether.
"The Democrats' economic wish list" from the Christian Science Monitor
Sunday, December 10, 2006
College Graduates Enter Workforce In Debt
New college graduates face more debt than ever. The average graduating senior now owes $19,200 in student loans, up from $9,250 a decade. Even adjusting for inflation, this represents a 58 percent increase in just ten years. College tuition itself has risen 35 percent in just five years - again, adjusting for inflation. Federal aid for college students has not kept pace with the growth in the number of students. As a result, less aid is available, causing students to borrow money from private sources, which presumably includes loan sharks and the like. Private borrowing of this sort increased 30 percent between 2004 and 2005 alone.
Three out of four full-time students are already in the workforce before they graduate from college. They need to be, just to pay their bills, regardless of its effect on their studies. Many say they must indefinitely delay - or forego altogether - marriage and raising a family to pay off their debts, and most are forced to choose jobs in business over less lucrative career paths in fields such as teaching. College graduates are channeled by necessity into entry level jobs in the corporate world (if they can find them) - just as corporate leadership is decimating the ranks of its white collar employees and suppressing their salaries to pay swollen sums to its chief executives.
The Democrats have promised to make college more affordable by cutting interest rates, increasing federal grants and enhancing the tax deductibility of tuition. It remains to be seen whether or not they can fulfill these promises.
The article at the link below suggests that, if survival in today's economy requires a college education, shouldn't there be some way to provide it free to our citizens, just like high school? Some claim that viable Internet universities can be established for just a few million dollars. Isn't it time we applied to the education of our people the same technological innovations that our popular culture and the business world have already been able to exploit?
"Today's Indentured Graduates" from the Christian Science Monitor
Friday, December 08, 2006
American Class System Is A House Of Cards
In the article at the link below, crime fiction legend Walter Mosley turns his literary skills to a crime that is anything but fiction - how the rich have stolen their wealth from the poor and the middle class. According to Mosley, true wealth may be defined as "when money is no longer an issue or a question". He tells us that, "Wealthy people don't know how much money they have or how much they make. Their worth is gauged in property, natural resources and power, in doors they can go through and the way that law works. Wealth moves like a shark over the rockbound crustaceans of the poor and working classes." For the rest of us, the situation is reversed. Money weighs upon our minds whether we want it to or not.
He defines poverty as "not being able to cover the basic necessities". He reminds us that, while most of us classify ourselves as middle class with relief and a certain smugness, the vast majority of middle class people are, in fact, "working class". Ridden by debt and deprived of real property of the sort that characterizes true wealth, the middle class can survive only by working - if not literally from paycheck to paycheck. The middle class live on the edge of poverty, despite our proud and sanguine assumptions otherwise. Our self-delusions do not protect us - they only cripple us. "Most Americans are working-class wage-slaves, arguing that they're better off," Mosley says. "This fantasy, more than any other confusion, hobbles us. Because we fear to see how delicate our economic state is, we cannot motivate ourselves to demand change."
The work we do is not just the source of our own economic survival. It is also source of the vast wealth of the rich. They make their money from what we do, not from what they do. Yet we see almost none of the wealth we generate. "America is the wealthiest nation in the world, by far, but we the American people are not wealthy," laments Mosley. "In the distance are towering silvery skyscrapers housing our corporations and our billionaires. But do not be fooled. This skyline does not belong to us. We are not partners in the corporation of America."
Only once we recognize the bitter truth of our own situation can we motivate ourselves to take back what the rich have taken from us. "We, the poor and working class, have built this nation and it, along with all its fabulous wealth, belongs to us," Mosley says. "From the Atlantic to the Pacific we, the workers, are the ones who hold sway. And every vault, every clinic, every drop of sweat fallen upon American soil is our democratic birthright. The rich don't own anything that we haven't built. The government means nothing that we don't endorse. These are the secrets that need to be made public."
"Show Me the Money" from The Nation
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Cut Back On Unnecessary Meetings
The colorfully written article at the link below chronicles Best Buy's "attempts to torch the great American butt-in-chair charade". What are they talking about? Meetings, of course. You know, those silly little sit-downs for which you have to book a conference room. Those glass-box arenas where adversaries joust at each other from their swivel-chair chariots. According to the author, "Meetings are the devil. These days the workforce is taken hostage by process, process, process, and that often involves meetings. Cubicle Land has become a place where, when workers return to their desks at 6 p.m., only then do they have the time to begin returning phone calls, answering e-mails, and, well, doing their work." Amen. Although, for some of us, meetings are perversely valued as opportunities to kill time, relax and even engage in a little open-eyed snoozing.
Best Buy started Results Only Work Environment (or ROWE) "culture clinics" to wean managers and their teams away from a need for meetings. These "culture clinics" - which probably entail meetings themselves, I'll bet - often utilize "improv theater-like exercises", in which team members can participate to get the point across. Reportedly, some of their bosses have not been amused by their performances.
ROWE abides by these cardinal rules:
1) All meetings should be optional.
2) All meetings should have conference bridges that will allow participants to dial in.
3) Call meetings only as a last resort. If you can convey what you need to convey in an impromptu face-to-face that lasts 30 seconds, do that instead.
Too many meetings can be the sign of a manager who is insufficiently organized, or not strong enough to make decisions or take initiatives without requesting the input of others. On the other side of the spectrum, dictatorial managers may use meetings simply to test the compliance of their underlings. Calling a meeting at 7:30 AM or 6:00 PM, and then implying that your job depends not only on your attendance, but on your prompt arrival as well, is an example of this kind of abusive behavior.
The attitude at Best Buy, though, is that meetings are a time-waster - and I think most of us would agree.
"How To Kill Meetings" from BusinessWeek Online
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
A TV Critic Compares The Two "Offices"
The article at the link below is the sort of piece that you read for the writing as much as for the content, so I won't bother to synopsize it in detail. It's a two-for-one TV review, comparing "The Office" from the UK with Ricky Gervais to our own homegrown version with Steve Carrel. Both Gervais and Carrel attempt to ingratiate themselves with their employees - to be their "buddy", to wit - each is his own way. Despite the differences in their tactics, both lay themselves open for some excruciating embarrassment. The strangest thing about both shows, from my own perspective as a serial underling, is that I don't think I can recall any boss who tried to be my "buddy" - or even my "daddy" or my "mommy". A few made a feeble effort of "mentoring" me, but most of the time they just told me what to do. Or not. If they did assume an inappropriate role on a regular basis, it was that of a nemesis or at the very least a non-stop insult machine. That indeed was the usual scenario. When they are not playing the clown, both lead characters of "The Offices" invest themselves in a pretentious business patois that is very familiar to me. Steve Carrel is a "karaoke machine of samplings from leadership manuals", which is so appropos on so many different levels that it's not even funny - and I've had at least my fair share of bosses who talked like that.
One key difference between the two programs is that the American version is prettier and sweeter. It is par for the course these days for even our satires to be candy-coated. The characters are generally better looking, the office is itself "brighter and noisier, with more posters, parties and pep" and the "British scabrousness and barely suppressed violence is gone". The American scabrousness and barely suppressed violence exists in real offices though, just not on television.
"Paper Chase" from The New Yorker
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
And Now For The Heavy Lifting
Even though the Democrats have taken over Congress, changing the American economy will not be an easy task. Globalization has intertwined our economy so inextricably with those of other nations that protectionist policies against exports could actually hurt American companies - and their workers. Moreover, the multinationalism of many corporations weakens the jurisdiction of any laws we pass to regulate corporate behavior. According to BusinessWeek, "Global forces have taken control of the economy. And government, regardless of party, will have less influence than ever." Even the more culturally neutral Time magazine has suggested that moderate reform is the only possible course - i.e., "Why The Center Is The Place To Be". We can afford to be as a nation, implies Time, neither red nor blue, but purple. Yeah, purple... Is that purple in the sense of yielding slavishly to the neo-royalty of the billionaires - or the purple of asphyxiation as we have the economic lifeblood squeezed out of us by the depredations of transnational greed?
According to Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect, a populist groundswell brought the Democrats into power. Initiatives to raise the minimum wage were passed in six states on Election Day - which, as Kuttner says, signals a desire for even broader considerations of economic justice that will affect the middle class as much as the working poor. Even the high and the mighty have started to bend to the will of the people. Clinton Treasury star Robert Rubin has preached tax increases to the Economic Club of Washington, and Barney Frank of the House Financial Services Committee has met with business leaders to exchange reduced regulations for better treatment of trade unions, higher wages, and a more enlightened stance on health care coverage. Bargaining has begun - but it remains thus far only bargaining, not arm-twisting.
The 800 pound gorilla in the room during the 2006 election was the economy. Kuttner says, "Clearly the voters are sick of an economic system that allows moguls to make annual incomes running into the hundreds of millions for manipulating commerce in ways that leave ordinary people worse off. In an election billed as a referendum on Iraq and Republican corruption... the sleeper issue was the economy as it affects regular Americans." Finding the solution, however, is another issue altogether. Kuttner adds, "...transforming this reality will require a lot more than a higher minimum wage or even universal health insurance...The current rules of globalism do weaken government's ability to use instruments that once allowed prosperity to be more widely shared - tighter regulation of finance, a more progressive tax system with the proceeds invested in ordinary people, and a stronger labor movement."
In the end, Kuttner asserts that populism must (and will) trump "centrism", and that even negotiators like Barney Frank may come to realize that winning back the economy for the average American may require more regulation, not less - its effect on the opinion of foreign investors notwithstanding.
"Now, The Hard Part" from The American Prospect
Monday, December 04, 2006
Capital Markets Cabal Plots To Roll Back Sarbanes-Oxley
The Committee on Capital Markets Regulation has issued a report that recommends rolling back elements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Law as well as many SEC restrictions. Their rationale is that excessive regulatory controls on - and prosecution against - the behavior of corporate boards and executives has deterred foreign investment. (We mustn't scare off those Saudi oil sheiks, now must we?) The report has raised a furor among investor groups and consumer protection advocates, who point out that the CCMG has significant connections to major corporate players, and that its recommendations are far from objective. For instance, CCMG has received $500,000 in contributions from the C.V. Starr Foundation, which has ties to former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg, who was fired last year for corporate malfeasance and is now facing charges in New York State. CCMG has also received contributions from private investor Wilbur Ross, Citadel Investment Group executive Kenneth Griggin, and former Goldman Sachs chairman Henry Paulson. Barbara Roper of the Consumer Federation of America believes that "the capital markets group had preordained its conclusions and carefully selected statistics to make its case..."
Shaking his head at the cruel irony of it all, Ralph Nader reminds us that the CCMG's report "is recommending less law enforcement and accountability after years of Republican regimes addicted to de-regulation." He decries changing the laws to cater to the lower standards of other nations, claiming that CCMG "wants to make lower standards overseas an argument for starting a race to the bottom, in order for the U.S. markets to remain 'competitive'." Mr. Nader describes several of the recommendations, which appear below.
1) CCMG wants to limit the ability of state and local governments to prosecute cases of financial fraud. Mr. Nader quotes Eliot Spitzer, himself no stranger to the prosecution of corporate crime, "To eviscerate the power of the one set of regulators who did anything is absurd."
2) CCMG wants governments to prosecute only the culpable executives, not sue the corporations they work for. Mr. Nader claims that this will result in scapegoating within the corporate power structure, in which lesser executives may be persuaded to accept the role of "fall guy" for the crimes of their superiors. (However, I personally agree that the focus of such prosecutions should be on the criminals, not on the company. I believe this focus intensifies the public shame of the perpetrators, while punishing the corporation only hurts the shareholders.)
3) CCMG wants to require more stringent proof that an executive had actual knowledge of the crime for which he is charged. The end result of raising the bar on such "proof" is that it would make it easier for culpable CEOs to get off just by saying, "I don't know." This, if anything, plays into the hands of scapegoaters who would sacrifice subordinates for the crimes of their superiors. After all, they would be the ones to whom the dirty work was delegated.
4) CCMG wants to weaken Sarbanes-Oxley, which mandated closer regulation and fuller disclosure of executive compensation and board activity. CCMG wants to change section 404 on internal accounting controls in particular - reducing the restrictions for foreign companies to the same standards applied in their native countries. This would only serve to relinquish such control altogether over foreign-owned businesses - including pseudo-foreign-owned "shell companies" that would undoubtedly be set up by American multinationals to take deliberate advantage of relaxed local standards.
5) CCMG wants stricter "cost-benefit analysis" on any new SEC rules. As Mr. Nader says, this is a "time-dishonored technique of producing endless delays in issuing any rules" - i.e., just more red tape that would buy time for corporations seeking to elude regulation.
6) CCMG wants shareholder approval for any "poison pill" defenses against corporate takeovers. This would seem to enhance shareholder power, but would instead only inhibit crucial corporate survival tactics and make hostile takeovers much, much easier. CCMG's true attitude toward shareholder power is reflected in its opposition to "giving shareholders the power to vote on...gargantuan executive compensation packages that often amount to looting company assets..."
7) CCMG wants to cap liability for auditors, if not give them total immunity. Making this change would, for instance, exonerate accounting firms that abet perpetrators of major financial scandals like those at Enron and WorldCom.
As consumer advocate Barbara Roper notes about these and other recommendations, "If you take every single step on their lists, you would have made it significantly more difficult to hold corporate criminals accountable for their crimes."
"Report on Corporate Rules Is Assailed" from The Washington Post
"The Big Boys Of Corporate Crime" from Counterpunch
"How Independent Was the Committee on Capital Markets Regulation?" from Economist's View
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Solidarity Vs. Aspiration
The critical barrier to the development of a strong "white collar" trade union has not been erected by either our legislators or our employers. We put it there ourselves, and we call it "personal ambition". Most of us are college educated, and like to see ourselves as professionals of one sort of another. Most of us see ourselves as skilled, intelligent and hard-working, and - no matter how shoddily the corporate world treats us - we stubbornly retain the hope that someday, somewhere, an employer will see in us our potential to rise above the common herd. We will finally get that promotion, that special project, or that corner office with its glorious view. It surely will happen someday - we think. Despite how starry-eyed we might be about our own aspirations, we have - or should have - enough common sense to realize that our colleagues have aspirations of their own, in many cases identical to ours. Common sense also dictates that not all of us can succeed. As a famous writer once put it, "It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail." Consequently, we keep our distance from our competitors and selfishly close in on our goals. Our competitors may occasionally cooperate with us, but the only entity that can give us what we really want is not a human being, but a thing - The Company. Our bosses encourage us to give our loyalty first and foremost to that thing, and only secondarily to each other. The inscrutable remoteness and abstraction of The Company only make it seem more god-like, all the more worthy of our idolatry.
But The Company is a savage god which rewards us no longer. The Company remains oblivious to our sacrifices, and cruelly arbitrary in its punishments. While we personalize this thing called The Company as though it were a just and caring anthropomorphic god, The Company objectifies the human beings that work for it, turning us instead into things. We are no longer members of a community that our employers wish to preserve. We are at once both capital equipment that depreciates, and interchangeable parts that can be replaced with ease. Our employers have given us the same message for generations - that we, too, have the capacity to rise within The Company, slough off the chrysalis of the white collar drone, and cross over into the world of management, towards glittering wealth and success. This is the myth that has compelled our worship of The Company, and it is now more a myth than ever.
The problem is that, even once we have become disillusioned with The Company, and have become - in effect - corporate atheists, our ambitions remain. We were raised with them and they are hard to get rid off. When we lose our faith in The Company, which we often do collectively, in great numbers all at once, we rarely turn to each other for support. We simply direct our aspirations somewhere else. Whether we choose to start our own little business, or go to law school, or scout around for that B&B in Nova Scotia to invest in, once again we are pursuing our own goals, by ourselves, almost entirely alone. Thousands of our colleagues may be cast out of the corporate Eden forever, mired for the rest of their lives in shame and disappointment. But not us - we won't let that happen to us. Or, rather, I won't let it happen to me, and you won't let it happen to you. Meanwhile, it happens more readily to all of us simply because we don't have to courage to recognize our kinship and help each other.
Labor unions in the past turned the stigma of "class inferiority" into a rock solid sense of comradeship that enabled them to fight their overlords with total unity, while immunizing them from the delusion that they would ever be allowed to join the ranks of their "superiors". We do not yet have that hard-won realism. We, whose mothers so fatally taught us that we could be anything we wanted to be, may never have that central psychological strength.
I myself have no idea how the besieged "white collar" classes can achieve the necessary solidarity. All I know is that we need it. Some movements on the behalf of our kind seem to focus unduly on "support groups", as though a "white collar" union were something like Alcoholic Anonymous or a Cancers Survivors group - an organization for victims rather than victors. I don't think that's quite the right approach. On the same token, forcing college-educated latent idealists like ourselves into the working class sensibility of a traditional labor union isn't the right approach either. For one thing, it is slightly vindictive and farcically inappropriate, a little like drafting frat boys and poets into basic training just to show them how the other half lives. Any organization that intends to exploit the full potential of the white collar mind-set must utilize its particular skills and pretensions. The mode of collective action that would be best for us might be one that allows us to act not so much collectively, but in unison, each pursuing his or her own strategy of resistance independently, but towards the same ends. The idea of resistance is key. We must act to contravene The Company even it endeavors to compel our compliance. The idea of The Company, with its seductive false promise that we might rise up the ladder and become - like the children of Lake Wobegon - all above-average, is a kind of diffused charisma. As the sociologist Max Weber taught us, the charisma of authority is "bureaucratized" into all corners of an organization to compel the obedience of everyone who works for it. It would behoove us to invest the corporate world with our own counter-charisma - the charisma, perhaps, of the outlaw or the rebel - to resist the charisma of The Company. We should become intrapreneurs with a vengeance, exploiting the structure and the resources of The Company as much for ourselves and our comrades as for our employers. We should seize The Company away from our employers, one subtle tactic at a time, and annex it with the pragmatic grandiosity of guerrillas. It is, after all, already territory we occupy.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Worshipping The Big Dog
More neocon bloviation from Tech Central Station is provided below, courtesy of me. Let it nowhere be said that this blogger doesn't give the superficial dumbasses of globalist complacency equal time.
The author of this gem starts out by dissing Jim Webb's recent editorial "Class Struggle" in The Wall Street Journal. He counters Mr. Webb's assertion that "manufacturing jobs are disappearing" - which is admittedly a bit dated - by saying that unemployment is still only 4.4 percent, because "American workers are moving from manufacturing to services..." True enough, but what he doesn't mention is that becoming counter help at the local Burger King offers not even a fraction of the rewards of being an assembly line worker at Ford. Oh, but our author anticipates this. "Also, wages are rising," he says. "Employee compensation has climbed over 5.3 percent in the past year." Ummm.... But is it keeping pace with the rising cost of living? He doesn't mention that it does. Is it possible that disproportionately growing compensation at the high end distorts the "mean"? More than likely. Are real wages rising, too? If so, only after declining for five years. I think he ought to deal with these potential gotchas, but he doesn't. He makes this suspiciously unqualified statement simply to counter Mr. Webb's claim that "despite the vaunted all-time highs of the stock market, wages and salaries are at all-time lows as a percentage of the national wealth..." Strangely enough, our author doesn't really contest this. And he gives us his own theory of why income inequality is rising in the U.S.
The gist of his argument is that those who are making all the money are doing so because they are better than the rest of us. Well, of course, he would say this. Tech Central Station is one of the most sycophantic online journals on the Internet. To illustrate his thoughts, the author draws a distinction between "the restaurant economy" and "iPod economy". There are a whole bunch of restaurants in his neighborhood - some cheap, some not. Most people can't afford to eat a meal at the expensive places - and so the star chefs at those boites continue to earn salaries in the very low six figures - chicken feed compared what other types of stars earn. Meanwhile, he can afford to play all sorts of retro crap on his iPod - e.g., Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and, apparently, Paul McCartney. (You wonder how old this guy is, and how stupid this paunchy and grizzled reactionary hipster must look grooving to these antique tunes on his way to work.) Anyway, getting beyond the ad hominem - he makes the point that these music superstars have become so rich because the mechanical arts of reproduction have made their work available to billions, while those poor star chefs can only make actual meals for a comparative handful of people. And all those "lesser artists" - even those whom we might patronizingly deem "of considerable talent" - sell nothing at all.
There are a number of things wrong with this metaphor. One is the assumption is that the best is always what gets mass produced, which is hogwash. It is the most saleable that gets reproduced, period. In the case of great artists, their fame will have preceded the mass merchandising of their works, which only makes them more saleable. Lots of other mass produced items are saleable for far less exalted reasons. They are not necessarily better made - only well enough made, easy to sell, and cheap to copy. The author made a mistake to talk about chefs and restaurants, because one of the most visible mass produced items in the entire economy is the "cuisine" sold by Burger King, McDonalds, Wendy's and the like. No one would call this "cuisine" high quality - few would even call it healthy. It is far worse than the creations of even your "average" star chef, and yet it is everywhere. Interestingly enough, the "chefs" that cook up these burgers and fries happen to be none other than those luckless American workers who have been thrown off the assembly line, and they get paid far less than even those mildly affluent star chefs. The people who get paid the most for mass producing these inferior products probably don't know how to cook at all - they are the CEOs of the junk food industry, who make their fortune not through the quality of their products, but through cynical marketing aimed at the lowest common denominator and ruthless cost cutting all across the board, from labor to materials. So much for our author's sycophantic insistence that the "best" is what always gets mass produced.
He also made a mistake in choosing to evoke iPods and music in his metaphor supporting vast wealth as the natural consequence of mass production and "high quality". Has he forgotten about Napster? Doesn't he realize that one of the factors that has vastly expanded the popularity of digitized music from any source is the ability to steal it without paying the manufacturer? Doesn't he understand that music piracy has become so common that it is threatening the very viability of the music industry?
Thirdly, his assumption that all Americans eschew "lesser" brands or artists or products for the established superstars is now even less true than it ever was. The same explosion in technological expertise that has ramped up our globalized manufacturing economy has resulted in a communications revolution that has not only allowed "lesser" products to connect with "niche" consumers, but has reduced the cost of "mechanical reproduction" to make the manufacture of even small quantities of these products both feasible and profitable. This has been called "the economy of the long tail" - but our author does not appear to have heard about this either. As a matter of fact, the abandonment of "mass markets" and "mass media" has been ongoing for decades and is only accelerating. Someday it may be possible for us to return to those days when everyone could make something that someone else might want to buy.
But these gaffes are not our author's only inadvertent forays into screaming irony. He claims that the "working class" are no longer the ones who "work". "The rich work more," he claims. "The poor less." It is the managers, entrepreneurs, financiers and "brain workers" who are working harder than anybody else, he claims. Yet aren't we "white collar workers" among that group? And haven't our hours - not to mention the pressures upon us - been increasing as downsizing has decimated our ranks? Aren't we working more - not because we want to, nor because we are so valued, but because we, too, now must hustle to survive? The author fails to note that, although white collar workers may be "richer" than the traditional working class, the wildly mushrooming incomes of the truly rich have brought these two groups closer together than ever before. Not only are their incomes more similar, in comparison to the truly rich - they also share the same economic insecurity. The author pretends that white collar workers are an "elite" to use them as a pawn in his argument, when in fact they are part of the new working class - which has become as vulnerable as the old one.
The author of the article at the link below is so comically reactionary that his first response to the charge that globalization is bringing back the 19th century world of robber barons and Satanic mills is to cry out, "What was wrong with the 19th century?" Oh, good sir, from the Irish potato famine to the Opium War to the Manchester factories that inspired Frederich Engels to co-author The Communist Manifesto, let me count the ways... You, on the other hand, are like Robert Browning, chanting "God's in His Heaven, and all's right with The World."
"The New Populism and the iPod Economy" from Tech Central Station
Friday, December 01, 2006
The Folks From "The Office"
For those of you who are fans of The Office - the American version - here is a light little something appropriate for a Friday. The article at the link below, written by a business coach, explains how the various characters on The Office reflect workplace archetypes that most of us will recognize. Identifying with them is another story altogether. Michael Scott, the boss - Dwight Schrute, the office suck-up - Angela Martin - the red state Christian - Jim Halpert, the nice guy - Phyllis Lapin, the office gossip. The author paints a thumbnail portrait of each character's particular pathology, and suggests how to approach them most, shall we say, compassionately. The article provides a facetious "Are you cut out to be the boss?" kind of test, then presents a checklist on how to become a better boss. That checklist appears below - totally transmogrified by my own annotations.
1) Give credit where it's due - This contends that most bosses take credit for what you do. Maybe, but since most such credit-taking occurs behind closed doors, I am frankly not aware of it. My pet peeves are bosses who give praise so perfunctorily that it comes across as little more than lip service. Or those with a "the glass is half empty" mindset who view all your hard work as a mere finger in the dike of an impossible situation and essentially take it for granted
2) Keep the office door open - Bosses should stay informed and accessible. I would go further and say that they should be aware that their position makes them someone you naturally want to avoid, and being visible won't necessarily help that. Therefore, they should actively approach and confer with their subordinates on a regular basis, but be shrewd enough not to do it in a way that seems either intrusive or insincere.
3) Deal with subordinates face-to-face - I concur. That's pretty much what I said above. If your subordinates won't come to you, understand that it is in your own best interests to go to them.
4) Don't play favorites - This is almost impossible to avoid. Liking some people better than others is one of the pitfalls of personal interaction. However, if you excessively conceal your likes or dislikes, you may come across as stiff and dishonest. If you do come to value some employees more than others, put your money where your preferences are and promptly move those folks up the ladder. If you continue to favor someone while pretending to keep them on an equal level with everybody else, that's when resentment is likely to fester.
5) Achieve life balance - The gist of this is to "get a life", as they say. A better adage here is "don't put all your eggs in one basket". Distribute your passions and priorities. If your job is all you care about, you'll lack the resilience to ride through the times when it seems like everything is going to hell. You'll be too tense, too serious, too much "on edge" - and your people will despise you for it. Care enough, but don't care too much.
"Office characters: Stereotypes in NBC show a little too close to home" from Pantagraph.com